For many couples during the pandemic, “I do” has become “let’s wait.” Businesses associated with Vermont’s wedding industry have taken a substantial loss in bookings and finances due to the coronavirus. Representative Peter Welch held an e-meeting with dozens of professionals to discuss the challenges they face and update them on the Congressional response.
More than 80 people entered the Zoom meeting coordinated by Congressman Peter Welch’s office and the Vermont Association of Wedding Professionals to discuss the precipitous drop in business the sector has experienced as a result of the pandemic.
Attorney John Hollar, a lobbyist for the association, says the businesses that range from DJ’s to photographers, planners, florists and venues have seen devastating losses. “Virtually all weddings in Vermont have been canceled this summer. As a result many of these businesses have lost nearly 90 percent or more of their revenues. But on the positive side the industry’s likely, and many businesses almost certain, to bounce back when the pandemic ends. But they need to survive in the meantime. Many of them are already booked up for next summer so the prospects are very good if we can get them to the other side.”
Some business owners said they have not been able to access recently passed federal support because they are independent contractors. Vermont Tent Company Chief Financial Officer Lon Finkelstein calls 2020 a complete wash for the business and the federal economic recovery money being distributed by the state a bandaid. He told Congressman Welch, a Democrat, they have been working with the Vermont Economic Development Authority to create a program to ease their debt burden. “We’ve come up with this term: how do we park our debt? Through VEDA they’re willing, through the money that they’d received though the CARES Act, to lend that money to many in our industry for up to a year. And that’s where we’re looking for you to give us the guidance and to change the rules that are currently handcuffing the banking institutions to allow us to do this.”
Wedding photographer Gabe Aceves has two degrees in economics. He’s concerned that there is too much optimism that recovery will occur in 2021. “I’m not convinced as a sole proprietor that I’m going to have enough business or enough bookings even next year from the people who have cancelled or postponed that I’m going to have some banner year next year that’s going to make up all the money I’ve lost this year. The idea of taking out loans or parking debt and expecting to be able to pay it all as if I’m going to make double my revenue next year does not seem realistic to me right now especially with no guarantee of a vaccine or the virus not existing.”
Welch acknowledged that the pandemic has wiped out Vermont’s wedding business this year. “You’re not going to be back in business until the public is confident that the virus is contained or we have a vaccine. Your revenues literally went off the cliff. You’re powerless to do anything about that. And it is, in my view, really essential that you live another day to continue providing that economic boost to Vermont.”
The Vermont Association of Wedding Professionals reports that the industry brings in more than $400 million in revenue annually, nearly as much as the state’s dairy industry.